How a Fil-Am filmmaker’s struggle for identity gave birth to an award-winning script 

Stacie Gancayco-Adlao is a Filipino-American filmmaker and actor and her coming-of-age drama feature, ‘Clementine,’ was adjudged as the Final Draft Big Break Grand Prize Feature winner. It is also an Athena Film Festival Screenwriting Lab Finalist, and Austin Film Festival Second Rounder. | Contributed photo

Stacie Gancayco-Adlao, a Filipina American filmmaker and actor, just scored the biggest win of her career so far.

Her coming-of-age drama feature, ‘Clementine,’ won the Final Draft Big Break Grand Prize Feature. It is also an Athena Film Festival Screenwriting Lab Finalist, and Austin Film Festival Second Rounder.

Final Draft received over 10,000 submissions from writers across the globe, a record for the organization. Aside from receiving a $10,000 prize, Gancayco-Adlao will also receive career coaching and meetings with renowned screenwriters and literary managers.

“This has been a really long journey filled with a lot of heartbreak and rejection so to win such a prestigious competition that received almost 13,000 scripts, I’m very grateful for the opportunity and the validation it has given me,” she told the Asian Journal.

Gancayco-Adlao created a biracial Black/Filipina heroine for her script and she is deeply moved that the character resonated with so many other people.

“It gives me hope that I will be able to create this film and tell this story to give Amerasians, biracial people, and immigrants a voice and face they can relate to,” she added.

Some of the competition’s previous winners have signed to professional representation and their works have been optioned, sold and produced.

“Now more than ever, it is important for the industry to discover and nurture new and diverse voices and give them the tools they need to succeed in their careers and in their crafts,” said Final Draft president Shelly Mellot.

Clementine’s backstory

Stacie grew up with a Filipino dad and a white mother, and admits that she had always struggled with her identity “and this intense feeling of not really belonging anywhere.”
While researching to find other people who felt like her, she came across a documentary called ‘Left By the Ship,’ about Amerasian people living in the Philippines. After doing more research, she learned that many of these children’s American military fathers either abandoned them or have no idea they exist because their military service was over and they left the Philippines to go back to America.

She found out that “Amerasian children were often treated poorly because of their familial circumstances, but Black Amerasian children were treated much worse because of the racism and colorism that plagues the Philippines.”

Her winning script ‘Clementine’ is about a young half Black/half Filipino Amerasian girl in the Philippines who longs to meet her American G.I. father. However, once she was with him in Oakland, CA in the summer of 2005, her journey to self-discovery is hindered by her internal struggles with identity and self-worth as she realizes this is not the America of her dreams.

“I wrote this story to not only explore my own issues with identity but to also give a voice to these people who have been discriminated against because of circumstances that are beyond their control. I think about Clementine and all of the little girls like her and I just want them to feel beautiful, to feel loved, and to love themselves,” she said.

Born and raised in San Jose, California, she said that the script is also her homage to the “beautiful Bay Area before gentrification really changed it.

Gancayco-Adlao hopes to write more Filipino American stories and she is thankful that her script for Clementine received the Final Draft Big Break Grand Prize Feature award this year. | Contributed photo

Projects in development
Stacie is currently in development on her first feature film, ‘Aphrodite & The Apocalypse,’ a dark romantic comedy starring two Filipino-American leads who meet and fall in love right before the end of their world. The script is a WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Finalist and Cinequest Top 50 Semifinalist.

They’re in the process of organizing a public table read and are putting together a pitch deck and sizzle reel to present to potential financiers so that they can make the film.

She is also trying to pitch her series, ‘Malaya,’ to networks. It’s about four women who have done everything that has been expected of them their entire lives. Now approaching their 30s, these four modern Bay Area AAPI women struggle to be free from familial and societal expectations to forge their own paths and re-discover themselves professionally, personally, and sexually.

“I get inspiration from my own life and stories I’ve heard or read about as I’m sure most writers do. But so much of my inspiration comes from movies because I’m such a movie lover. I love telling universal stories but with people of color inhabiting those characters, especially Filipinos,” she shared.

As a screenwriter, her screenplays have also earned accolades from the following prestigious competitions: Academy Nicholl Fellowship, Austin Film Festival, Final Draft Big Break, Bluecat, Cinequest, American Zoetrope, Cinematografo Originals, Athena Screenwriting Lab, WeScreenplay, Screencraft, and ISA Network.

Some of her favorite films are ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ ‘The Lobster,’ “Palm Springs,’ ‘500 Days of Summer,’ and ‘Amelie.’ She is quick to say that all of the films she mentioned just have white people in them.

“And white people aren’t the only ones who fall in love, have their hearts broken, experience loss, or anything! We’re humans—that’s our shared experience but our faces are rarely reflected onscreen. And we are so funny, bizarre, endearing, adorable, captivating, complex, and multi-faceted. We deserve to have audiences fall in love with us too,” she added.

Stacie acknowledges the fact that she never went to film school, nor has she taken a screenwriting class. Most of her knowledge she says comes from watching films and reading screenplays.

“Since I never went to film school, I don’t follow the typical rules that I’ve heard others have. I don’t write outlines, I free write. I don’t write every day, I only write when I’m inspired to,” she revealed. “But, I do give myself my own deadlines to hit and they are very strict. Once I sit down to write a script, I give myself a goal to reach every day until I finish.”

Childhood dream
Stacie shared that she doesn’t really remember her childhood ambition although her mother said “she always thought my brother and I would be actors because we couldn’t watch any Disney movies without acting them out. In theaters, we would sit and watch every type of movie even when we were very young, just enamored with everything that was happening onscreen.”

It was her father though, who instilled that love of films in her, which is why she has been in love with movies since she was very little.

“He wasn’t that dad who ever questioned, ‘Maybe my kids shouldn’t be watching these types of films,’ as we sat and watched ‘The Godfather,’ ‘Child’s Play,’ and brutally violent martial arts flicks. He would just turn to us and say, ‘It’s a good movie, huh?’ Then, he would turn back to the screen with the most pleasant smile on his face,” Stacie shared.

Then she started writing screenplays and she found a community of people who also wanted to create their own content and highlight underrepresented communities.

“I knew I had found my passion—my calling. And I haven’t looked back,” she said.

Her short dramedy film from her Bluecat Screenplay Semifinalist script, ‘Cherry Picking’ had its World Premiere at the Oscars qualifying L.A. Shorts International Film Festival and her paranormal mockumentary comedy, ‘Ghosted,’ was nominated for Best Horror Comedy at the Women in Horror Film Festival and Oregon Scream Week Horror Film Festival.

Her career trajectory has also brought her to acting, a suggestion that came from her actor-husband who saw how difficult it was for her to get her scripts read.

She recently starred in the Amazon Fire and ATTN produced horror comedy, ‘Concealer,’ directed by Kristine Gerolaga for which Luke Kelly-Clyne of Vulture stated that she gave ‘one of the best short performances of the year.’ She won Best Actress at the 2020 Horror Origins Film Festival for ‘Concealer’ and is nominated for Best Supporting Actress by FilmQuest Film Festival.

“Being biracial Filipino, there aren’t any roles for me out there because I don’t look traditionally Filipino or white — except for Latina roles and I don’t want to take away roles from Latinas who can bring everything to the role that I cannot. So from that, I realized I had to create my own content,” she shared.

Momar G. Visaya

Momar G. Visaya is the Executive Editor of the Asian Journal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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